Sunday, February 28, 2010

"The Crazies"

The Crazies - Directed by Breck Eisner, starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson - Rated R

This one deserves a Kurgan...I think.

Okay, this is going to be a tough review. Not because The Crazies is such a complex movie or anything, but because of how I had to watch it. I watched the movie at a theatre that hasn't fully converted to digital yet, so they still use reels. Now, most films are five reels long. I believe that someone, either the distributor or the projectionist, mixed up the reels. In other words, I watched a jumbled film. Instead of watching it 1,2,3,4,5, I got to see it 1,3,2,4,5. Needless to say, this led to a very frustrating viewing. (For the theatre's part, I hear that they have fixed thr problem, though the patrons that complained Friday night were told that the movie is "supposed to be like that.") So I'll do my best to review The Crazies, even though I saw it in an unintentional Pulp Fiction style.

The Crazies takes place in the small Iowa town of Ogden Marsh. It seems to be a wholesome, peaceful community. That is until an alcoholic farmer marches onto the baseball field during a high school game with a loaded shotgun. Not to worry, Sheriff David Dutton (Olyphant) is there to take him down. That's only the beginning, however. Something is causing the residents of Ogden Marsh to go crazy...and it's contagious.

So this is basically a survival movie with a nice chunk of paranoia thrown in for good measure. That's a winning combination in my book. I consider John Carpenter's The Thing to be one of the best films of all time, so I dig the paranoia. It always adds an amazing layer to a film. You start to look over each character with suspicion. And since that is what each character is doing as well, you can easily become engrossed in a film like this. My particular experience took me out of it a bit, but once I got my bearings it was easy to enjoy the paranoia.

Don't be confused by all this paranoia talk, this is still a brutal film. It doesn't revel in the gore or anything, but it certainly has its messier moments. The film mainly relies on jump scares and last second saves to evoke responses. I felt there were too many of these moments, but that doesn't mean they aren't effective. I imagine most audience members will jump at least once or twice.

The most effective aspect of the film remains with the paranoia. That means acting is required for this film, since it's not just a run away from the monsters movie. I know that acting normal then acting crazy isn't the performance that wins awards, but it is more demanding than looking scared for two hours. Olyphant does a suitable job. He's always been kind of a strange actor, but most of his performances work, and this one certainly does. Radha Mitchell also does some fine work as his wife/doctor. But it's Joe Anderson, as Deputy Russell Clank, who shines. He can give a great crazy gaze, then logically explain himself in the same scene. On top of that, he gets some of the comic relief, making him a very likable character.

The acting is fine, but what is great about this cast is that it doesn't contain many stars. Olyphant is by far the biggest name here, and Radha Mitchell has been in a few decent movies, but I didn't really recognize the other actors. This is important because we're dealing with a film in which many people die. You don't want to watch a film with an ensemble cast of A-listers which you know will survive at least until the very end while the vague B-listers die in droves. Since I didn't recognize some of these actors/actresses I wasn't sure if I was seeing a major character or a quick death. It might sound trivial, but a proper cast can really elevate a film like this.

This isn't an outstanding film or anything, though. I had some non messed-up-reels issues with it. First off, it's called The Crazies but we don't get to see much crazy behavior. I know, I know, turning into a murderer capable of killing your family and friends is certainly crazy, but I wanted some wackier glimpses of the craziness. There are a couple: the strange lady riding a bike and singing, the dudes using a dumpster as a punching bag, etc. But those moments were few and far between. The virus really just turned people into excellent, stealthy killers. It didn't ruin the movie for me; I was just hoping for a slightly campier film.

Another issue that some people might have is the treatment of the government. At its heart, the original 1973 George Romero version of The Crazies was about government conspiracies. This remake is no different and it might rub some people the wrong way when sane characters start attacking U.S. troops. I just found it compelling. The characters are not gung ho about fighting troops. They were just put in a kill or be killed situation. I'm great at suspending disbelief and my mantra regarding film is "it's just a movie." So I didn't have a problem with troops being used in slightly "bad guy" roles. Along those lines, the film features a couple of nifty elements to handle this problem. The best example is a short scene in which a soldier is captured and it turns out that he's just a guy following orders; he's not the devil in camouflage. But some people may take issue with it.

So The Crazies sticks with the original's paranoia and government issues and it turns out to be a better film in my opinion. Romero's version suffered from a shoestring budget and it hasn't aged well. I like the basic idea of Romero's film, but this new version retains the gist of the story while providing a much more effective and entertaining presentation. Some Romero purists might cry "Sacrilege!" at that but it's just how I feel. (For the record, I still think Romero is an amazing director.)

The Crazies is a completely solid film, and if I enjoyed it even though I watched it in a messed up order, then that means they did something right with this one. If you're looking for survival horror with some memorable scenes (like the scene involving the steak knife or the most suspenseful carwash ever filmed), then you should definitely check this one out. I hope you get to see it in order, I certainly wish I had.

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